I learned if s+ past perfect, S would have done

But I often encounter if s past verb, S would have done

For example,

If he wanted to kill us, he would've done it at the junkyard. (from TV show 'Breaking bad')

Is there any difference in meaning had wanted and wanted

  • 2
    Using Simple Past puts the hypothetical scenario closer to the present (time of speaking). So in your example the speaker is probably implying that not only did he not want to kill them when they were at the junkyard - he still doesn't want to kill them when the speaker is talking about this later. If the speaker was talking about a situation that happened years ago, with no relevance to the time of speaking, Past Perfect would be preferred. But in most contexts I think you might as well just use Simple Past, because it's simpler. Aug 14, 2016 at 14:30
  • Er ..., where is the subjunctive that you mentioned in the title of your question?
    – BillJ
    Aug 14, 2016 at 15:28
  • @BillJ I think the OP sees "would have done" as the expressing the pluperfect subjunctive as described here. Aug 14, 2016 at 21:45
  • @FumbleFingers: Can you turn that into a full answer? I think you've hit on the heart of it. Aug 18, 2016 at 22:29
  • "If he wanted" is technically a past subjunctive -- it just ends up being syntactically identical to the past indicative
    – eques
    Oct 30, 2018 at 14:35

2 Answers 2


If he had wanted to kill us, he would have done it at the junkyard.

If he wanted to kill us, he would have done it at the ju kyard.

Both the sentences are grammatical but different in meaning

The first sentence is conditional type 3. It indicates the past condition with the past result. He didn't want to kill us, so he didn't do it.

The second sentence is a mixed conditional (type 2 + type 3). It shows the present condition with the past result. He doesn't want to kill us, so he didn't do it.

Another example of this type:

If you needed my help, you would have asked me


Sorry, I would have liked to leave a comment instead, but my rep isn't high enough yet.

Personally, without having enough information about the original speaker of the sentence, I just think that the speaker had either been a little lazy or uninformed about her tenses.

See these posts for reference (including one from this Stack Exchange).


When is using the past perfect tense not necessary?

What do you think? You know the original speaker better than I do....

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